I take dad to physiotherapy on Thursdays, and we’ve developed a routine of going to Tim Horton’s for coffee and a treat beforehand. Prior to dad’s stroke, I don’t think he and I ever sat in a coffee shop together. I don’t think we ever whiled away a half an hour, sitting by a sunlit window, eating donuts and shooting the breeze. The first time we went, I remember thinking how normal it felt, how freaking fantastic it felt to be amongst everyday people, doing such an everyday thing.
The stroke, now almost a year ago, changed everything. It gipped dad of his independence, and his freedom to do anything and go anywhere he wants. It also changed his relationship with us. I always thought we were a close family – regular phone calls, birthday and holiday meals, getting together once a month or so – but we never spent this much time together. Never had I envisioned a day where I would have to take care of dad to the degree that I do. Awkwardness and squeamishness be gone, there’s nothing I haven’t done when it comes to taking care of dad. It can’t be easy for him to watch his baby girl care for him, the way he once did for me, but dad has coped with remarkable grace and dignity. Even on a rare bad day, when the impact of the year gets him down, he keeps going. At times, there are tears, but mostly there is humour and gratitude. Talk about seeing one’s true character in the face of adversity. I’ve come to know my father as an extraordinarily gentle man.
M opens the car door for me. That may sound random, but it’s a simple gesture that he’s done ever since we met, and I adore it. He once told me he wasn’t interested in being with someone who wants to change him. He is who he is, and M is nothing if not undeniably, unapologetically himself. And that goes for me too. We are more ourselves with each other than we’ve ever been with anyone else. That’s why we fit. We both stopped trying to be what someone else wished we could be.
That being said, there are certain instances where a gal has every right to override a guy’s wishes. Like when I trim M’s unruly eyebrow hairs, which somehow grow like weeds overnight, I tell him,
“I’m not trying to change you. I’m just trying to make you better.”
There’s no shortage of material when it comes to writing about M’s “tendencies.” His friends, who rib him incessantly, can absolutely appreciate my stories about his questionable lettuce purchases, his talent for dancing without moving his feet and his ability to create crumbs out of thin air, but there’s more to him than just the colorful, funny, loud, right-leaning, sports-fan guy, who like his wings hot, with hot sauce on the side.
When we first met, M was working in Burbank California, commuting home every one or two weekends. A couple of months in, I went to visit him for a few days. We were planning a loose itinerary of stuff we wanted to do and see, and I suggested having a “Pretty Woman” date. Now, I’m a jeans and sneakers kind of gal. I don’t wear a lot of jewelry, and I haven’t been planning my wedding since I was a little girl. But I’m still a girl, and absolutely a romantic at heart. I’ve never missed an episode of The Bachelor or The Bachelorette (not sure if that makes me a romantic or just nuts), and any romantic gesture, large or small, is greatly appreciated.
So I let M plan the whole evening. As we got ready in the hotel room, we tried not look at each other until the big reveal. We looked pretty hot – he in a suit and tie, me in a black skirt, shoulder-baring top and heels. He chose a restaurant, on top of a hill, the sun setting over a breathtaking view of the Los Angeles area. Stunning. We sat outside on the patio and had a lovely meal. It was only afterwards, while we were sharing after-dinner drinks and a cigar that I noticed he had on cufflinks. Cufflinks! Who wears cufflinks anymore? There was something exquisitely romantic about this beautiful attention to detail; something sort of old-fashioned; something that aligns so perfectly with the guy who opens my car door; the guy who says, “I love you,” easily; the guy who proposed at our favourite restaurant, on his late parents’ wedding anniversary.
This Valentine’s Day, I’m making up for all the February 14th’s that came and went without fanfare, without a good man, without any man. This year, I’m the luckiest girl. I have two dates with the best men I know – the one who raised me and the one who gets me.